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Bilinguatherapy makes speech therapy accessible to Richmond’s bilingual community

Children high-five during a speech therapy session.
Children play during a session at Bilinguatherapy — a speech and occupational therapy practice founded by Tia Javier — in Richmond. (Photo: Keyris Manzanares/VPM News)

A defining moment in Tia Javier’s life was when her 3-year-old daughter was having difficulty communicating. Javier knew she needed to find a speech therapist who spoke Spanish, but she didn’t realize how hard it would be. 

“Since we speak Spanish at home, I was looking for a Spanish-speaking speech therapist, but there were none in Richmond. And through my research, I found that there were only 91 Spanish-speaking speech therapists in the entire state of Virginia,” Javier told VPM News Focal Point. 

Javier decided to become part of the solution. She studied to become a speech therapist and now runs Bilinguatherapy — a speech and occupational therapy practice located in Southside Richmond specializing in therapy in English and Spanish. It’s the first of its kind. 

“Before studying to become a speech therapist, I was a Spanish professor and I decided to study speech therapy so that I [could] fill this gap,” Javier said. 

For Javier, it’s personal. She was born and raised in Richmond, so she is familiar with the community. She said she knows that speech therapy is a service that’s needed by the local Latino population. Most of Javier’s patients are between 1 and 5 years old. 

“This is my community that I'm from, and I feel very invested in it. So, to be able to help so many people from so many different places, it really fulfills me. And not only that, but these are children who are not able to communicate with their own families — with their moms and their dads,” Javier said. 

Sandra Herrera was one of those moms. Herrera said she started to notice her two boys were behind on their speech in 2019. She knew Javier because of her work in the community and decided to try out Bilinguatherapy. 

“I put my trust in [Tia] because she is bilingual. I decided to bring my children here with her because they were really behind on their speech. And now, thank God, I am seeing a lot of progress in them,” Herrera said in Spanish. 

Herrera said her children are able to speak up now and pronounce words with confidence. 

Since most of Javier’s therapy sessions are with children, they are usually play-based, meaning the children think they are just playing but they also are being immersed in skilled speech therapy. 

“Someone who doesn't have early intervention in speech therapy, it can affect their academics, it can affect their social life, it can affect them as an adult. Let's say someone who stutters and who doesn't have any help with that, think about how they will live their entire life being socially withdrawn, where they're not participating in things. So, it affects their quality of life,” Javier explained. 

Javier treats her patients like family, saying she wants them to be successful and knows that if they can overcome their communication barriers, they will be able to live up to their full potential.  

“I'll have some kids here that are like 4 and 5 years old who can't speak to their own parents,” she said. “But after a few months of therapy, they're saying, ‘Hi,’ they're using sentences. And that's just a beautiful thing, just to see their life change like that.”